The Times-Picayune's Internet Problem

The transmogrification of the Times-Picayune has brought up two major issues; the first is the free-for-all debate about the "future of journalism" and the second is the issue of Internet access in New Orleans. Leaving aside the first issue momentarily, it's important to remark – not only for the Times-Picayune, but for all of us – that Internet access in New Orleans and across the state is, compared to the rest of the country, very low.

Back in 2006, the city's new tech chief tried to get the ball rolling on a municipal broadband network. Private communications companies quickly squelched the intiative, and the tech chief – Greg Meffert – eventually went to jail for corruption. The concept hasn't come up since.

In Lafayette, by comparision, a municipal broadband network has flourished despite opposition and lawsuits from Cox and BellSouth, providing faster and cheaper Internet to subscribers, according to stories in USA Today and The Lens. The Lens investigation also highlights the drastic lag in broadband access in New Orleans' poorer neighborhoods.

And recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal shanked an $80 million federal grant to bring broadband Internet to public entities – schools and libraries, among others – in rural Central and Northern Louisiana.

The Columbia Journalism Review recently published an account of how the Times-Picayune is a microcosm for the inevitabilies of how journalism will be consumed. The major issue facing the industry is that of solidifying journalism as educational, which will smooth the way for new outlets to obtain 501(c)(3) status and seek funding through philanthropy. The major issue facing the Times-Picayune is that, even though they're going online, their audience – in New Orleans and throughout the state – is not.

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